Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 15, 2012

Permanent Emergency — Kip Hawley’s time at TSA

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 15, 2012

I have one chapter left to read in Kip Hawley and Nathan Means’ book Permanent Emergency.  The book describes Hawley’s term as TSA Administrator, from 2005 until 2009.

I don’t want the book to end.  It’s really good.

I’ve read Tom Ridge’s and Michael Chertoff’s after-office books.   Permanent Emergency is in its own class, at least when it comes to back-in-the-day homeland security memoirs.  Ridge’s book engages the reader.  Chertoff’s book challenges (ok, it’s a hard read).

Hawley and Means’ work is a page turner.  I will not be surprised if Permanent Emergency is made into a movie.  A made-for-TV movie. But still, a movie. (By then, maybe the book can lose the melodramatic subtitle, “Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security.”)


Here are some of the questions the book asks and answers:

How did TSA get into the behavioral detection business?  Why do passengers really have to take their shoes off during screening? (It’s not because of the shoe bomber.)

What’s life like for a screener? Why do they check wheelchairs and people who’s hips have been replaced?  Why do they follow rules instead of use their discretion?  What was the only professional decoration Hawley had on his “love me” wall?

What command center did the TV show 24 model?  What law enforcement agency receives “the best and most specialized firearms training?” How long does it take to fire a senior executive who’s not doing his job?

How credible was the UK liquid bomb threat? How long did TSA have to implement the liquids ban? How did they get it done? Why is the 3 ounce rule actually 3.4 ounces? (Ask someone who knows the metric system.) And why plastic bags? What happened to the man in Milwakee who wrote “Kip Haweley is an idiot” on his plastic bag?

How did the TSA blog get started?  And how did Blogger Bob get his job?  Why did TSA use the Blogger platform (available free from Google) instead of spending millions to develop a proprietary blogging platform? Why did the blog change its name from the empirically accurate “Evolution of Security” to the bureaucratically bland “TSA Blog.” (The book doesn’t answer the last two questions, but inquiring minds remain interested.)

Where did Hawley get his ideas from about aviation security as a complex adaptive system?  Why was he told not to talk about complexity theory in public? (Seriously.)


Every man is the hero of a biography he had a hand in writing. This book is no exception.  At times Permanent Emergency reads like a 21st century version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Like Mr. Smith, Hawley (and the talented team of people he collected and credits) got things done. Not everything he wanted to do. But progress.

Also like Mr. Smith, I’m sure there were people in Washington who wanted Hawley gone before he did leave.  I spoke with a few of them over the years.  The consensus from those few was “nice guy, but in over his head.”

OK, but who’s not in over their head in this homeland security business? That does not mean you can’t learn how to get things accomplished.

Permanent Emergency would be a valuable addition to almost any homeland security academic program in the country. For one thing, it’s written so well students will actually read it. I’m not kidding when I say it’s a page turner.

For another, it shows how one person (ok, one person with great contacts and experience) can make a difference. It shows the importance of being able to spot talent and clear the path for that talent to disrupt — in creative and productive ways – staid organizations. It shows the role politics, bureaucracy, leadership, science, research, trial and error, communication, good and bad luck, public relations, physical energy, commitment, intelligence, risk management, sacrifice and persistence play in getting things done in homeland security.

It also reminds the reader how much uncertainty and stumbling and making things up characterized homeland security’s first years.


I met Kip Hawley twice. I found him creatively thoughtful, sincere, and caring. He also appears to listen to the people talking to him. Those traits come through in the book.

Before I read Permanent Emergency I was not a fan of how TSA does its mission. For a lot of reasons, I think on balance the costs — including the privacy we surrender to fly — are greater than the benefits we receive from submitting to the government.  I recognize there are other views — including Kip Hawley’s.

After reading Hawley and Means’ book, I’m still not a TSA fan.  But the authors make me doubt some of the reasons why I hold the postion I do.

Whether you largely agree with TSA’s role in homeland security or not, if you read this book your views about the agency and the people who serve in it will change.  Maybe permanently.


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Comment by John Comiskey

May 15, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

OK Hawley made my B-read list. Wish it were on CD.

No doubt, Hawley was in T. Roosevelt’s arena and some: a fish-bowl arena with mega-magnification.

What is the alternative? Search everyone? Search no one?

Last year, I taught four classes of TSA screeners and learned that they are afforded zero discretion. No exceptions: everyone goes through the system.

One thought: professionalize the industry. TSA screeners might be a great entry-level career starter job and some.

NYPD 101: The Patrol Guide is a guide and not necessarily a check list (sometimes it is must do and do it this way manual.

Professionals have some discretion. Automatons don’t and that is one of the reasons TSA is in trouble.

Comment by Jim Curren

May 15, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

Kip Hawley was an innovator at TSA. The current Risk Based Security was his idea. He didnt need the money – but took the job as a duty to the country. Unlike others he hasnt made money as a contractor and I am reasonably sure he wrote the book to share his experience, not make a few bucks. I enjoyed the few times I briefed him or spoke to him – he was open and as Chris writes, ready to listen. I never thought he was over his head.
What John “pray for the Mets” Comiskey writes is one of the major failures of TSA. As many employees lack the capability of discretion, they must follow every thing about their job to the book. Like yesterday when Henry Kissinger was patted down at a checkpoint. In order for discretion to work, you need trust throughout the chain-of-command – that your superiors will back you up. I’m not sure that is the case at TSA. I’m not sure you can teach discretion. But are we better off than we were 11 years ago when airport screeners were some of the lowest paid and trained positions in the airport? Yes, I think we are and hopefully it will continue to improve – unless John Mica blows up TSA – what he calls his greatest mistake in legislating.

Comment by TSA & Treason: Drugs and Bribes; Other

May 16, 2012 @ 6:15 am

Henry Kissinger nor anyone else as passenger on a commercial airflight is exempted from screening and especially a pat down for each time I fly, I am subjected to far more and I am every ounce a patriot of our beloved Republic as Henry Kissinger or smug-smiled, Nancy Pelosi et al! Everyone is subjected to screening and Kissinger as a public figure should seek such passenger security check as an example of why all must be subjected to assuring a safe flight. No one is exempt and as a frequent traveler on international business, passengers
should expect all to be treated equally….

BTW, Kip Hawley’s book should be on the reading list for everyone, however for certain, all TSA employees from bottom to top!

Christopher Tingus

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 16, 2012 @ 6:56 am

Seems a number of proposals by Republicans to end TSA so wondering if this effort is being tracked?

I would keep TSA after returning it and its budget to DOT!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 16, 2012 @ 7:00 am

I don’t remember any of the books mentioned discussing how TSA related to the Secretary DHS, including time spent on TSA issues, hearings etc. or White House relations over TSA issues! This would be of interest. Remember it was not actually health issues that ended the career of John MaGaw head of TSA at DOT but worry by the law enforcement community at TSA being a formal part of that community. For a listing of that community see 28 CFR!

Comment by Jim Curren

May 18, 2012 @ 5:50 am

On the Henry Kissinger screening. To be a threat, a person must have both capability to do harm and intent to do harm. As an 89 yr old Noble Peace Prize winner, Dr. Kissinger is neither. Some say we must be fair and treat him like everyone else – and in fact give him extra security considerations as he has metal braces on his legs that could conceal bad metallic objects. But screening is a resource – if we allocate screening resources to Dr. K or Nancy Pelosi (she usually uses Air Force white top aircraft for travel so she ducks screening) we either need more resources or cannot spend additional resources on higher threat passengers. Kip Hawley got this – he also realized that corkscrews, knives under 4″, etc were not much of a threat capability. But, we move slowly to differentiate between low threat and high threats.
TSA discusses the “layers of security” but until this year the screening layer treated everyone the same – not risk based. Finally, with Pre Check and Secureflight we can state that some frequent fliers and military types are lower threats than a 19 yr old male that has just returned from a year long visit to Yemen. Focus resources on the guy with capability and intent – not on Henry Kissinger who last had capability and intent when eyeing Jill St. John in the mid-70s. Similarly, Rand Paul and his dad are a threat to TSA – but not a threat to commercial aviation – why waste time and resources on them, me (a trusted TSA employee), my wife who flies over 60 times a year and my 90 yr. old Aunt Edna who once was stopped with a DAR letter opener in her carry-on (it was a gift and she didnt know what was in the box). The 19 9/11 attackers had intent – but few of the capabilities they carried on the planes that day were on the prohibited items list. Kip realized this and established the Behavior Detection Officer program – looking for intent. Not sure how this program will turn out.

I did not follow the other discussion. John Magaw was fired because he did not work well with stakeholders. Adm Loy was brought in because he had done a good job with stakeholders while in the USCG. John Pistole, the current TSA Administrator is law enforcement having been Dep Dir of the FBI.

Comment by Donald Quixote

May 18, 2012 @ 10:51 am

This is an interesting article that may provoke thought on the value of the billions expended on the front doors when the back and side doors are often wide open for access at many of our airports by the insider threat. On the other hand, the front doors are much easier to address since the threat already happened at that location and significant funding exists.

Congress Considers Threats from Airport Employees

By: Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press

05/17/2012 (7:21am)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Commercial air travel is at risk from terrorists who quietly get jobs at airports so that they can attack from within sensitive areas, a senior Homeland Security Department official told lawmakers Wednesday.

There has never been such an instance, but a security supervisor at Newark Liberty Airport is facing criminal charges that nearly 20 years ago he assumed the identity of a New York man who was later murdered. This incident raised questions about whether the Transportation Security Administration knows the true identities of people who work in secure areas at airports around the country.

The TSA said the man, Nigerian Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole, never worked for TSA and the agency did not issue the man’s security badge. The TSA requires a background criminal and terror check for employees who work at airports. Oyewole was screened through that process, but because he worked at the airport for so long, the TSA did not do a separate check that would verify his identification, the agency said.

The House Homeland Security Committee conducted an oversight hearing Wednesday, and a senior TSA official, assistant administrator John Sammon, said he could not assure lawmakers there were no other such cases around the country.

“We don’t know whether they are who they say they are,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

People who pose a threat can obtain government security badges for U.S. airports because the TSA inadequately investigates the backgrounds of badge applicants, said the agency’s acting inspector general, Charles Edwards. This includes missed signs that such people might be dangerous, or confirmation they are American citizens, Edwards said.

Some of these security gaps could be resolved with a new government rule that would require a criminal history check every five years and strengthen other identification reviews, Sammon said. But he acknowledged that he couldn’t assure lawmakers that the new rules — still under development — would catch every case of an airport worker using someone else’s identity.

Oyewole is charged with using the identity of Jerry Thomas, a petty criminal who was shot outside a Queens, N.Y., YMCA in July 1992. Thomas’ murder remains unsolved, but police in New York said Tuesday there is no evidence tying Oyewole to Thomas’ shooting.

However, two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation said that Oyewole began using Thomas’ birth certificate and Social Security number three weeks before Thomas’ murder. The officials requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss details of the case publicly.

Authorities were alerted to Oyewole’s alleged double life when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s inspector general’s office in Hoboken received an anonymous letter, the officials said. The letter described Oyewole’s using additional names, though those weren’t divulged Tuesday.

The Port Authority, which operates the area’s main airports and other transit hubs, said Oyewole entered the United States illegally in 1989 and had worked under several contractors at the airport, most recently FJC Security Services, and had supervised about 30 guards. The agency said its investigation found no indication that he used the fake identity for any reason other than to live in the United States.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Comment by William R. Cumming

May 23, 2012 @ 11:43 pm

Documents one of many weaknesses in current systems. Airports are not secure and they are critical infrastructure.

Comment by Donald Quixote

May 25, 2012 @ 10:56 am

House to advance spending bills that cut TSA, boost veterans programs

By Pete Kasperowicz – 05/24/12 06:03 PM ET

The House next week is likely to advance three 2013 spending bills, including one that chops more than $200 million from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and another that gives a significant boost to veterans programs.

The House Rules Committee has set a Wednesday meeting to approve rules for the three bills, which means the House could consider the rules by Thursday and perhaps start work on one or more of them.

One of these, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations act, would spend $39.1 billion on the Department of Homeland Security, which represents a cut of $393.5 million, a 1 percent reduction from 2012 levels. More than half of that cut can be found in a $198 million reduction to TSA’s passenger and screening operations program, which screens airline passengers around the country……………


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